Simple Minds – 3 Thoughts on Finding Contentment

Contentment.  It seems such a straightforward term and yet something always out of reach. How do we find contentment?  Once we find it, how do we keep it?

At the risk of stopping you reading right now, I have to admit, I don’t know!  This is something I am learning at the moment.  It is something I struggle with.  I am naturally emotional – I feel things strongly – left to my own devices I can oscillate between being the life and soul to quietly withdrawn.  Yet I work with someone who I have begun to recognise as one of the most contented men I know.  He is not naive, foolish or idealist, yet he is never far away from joy no matter what the situation.  He is also pursuing simplicity in his lifestyle.  The two are not unrelated.

Simplicity births contentment.  

Simplicity can take many forms.  I’ve written previously about how my wife and I put great value on living beautifully.  We want to live in a way that isn’t always pushed to the limit in time, finances, capacity and head space.  We don’t always manage.  In fact, recently I’ve really struggled.  I’m a church leader.  That means my life is full of people, situations and events that call for urgent attention right now, as well as a need for ‘stepping back’ big picture thinking, prayer and strategy.  Recently I’ve taken on an extra larger area of ministry.  Things have been busy.  There’s been a lot to do and a lot to think about.  I’ve got stressed.

I won’t be the only one.  Having a busy life full of many different things, all seemingly urgent, all needing attention, is not a unique experience.

How do we find simplicity amidst the multitude of urgency?

I have 3 thoughts I want to share; 3 things that came as I prayed through this very question this morning.  They’re personal words into my situation, but I think they may be helpful for many others too.  For me, the place I need simplicity most is in my mind.  Some circumstances I can change, many I can’t, but I can affect how I see my life.  I want to see it through the perspective of the presence of my Father God every single moment.  I want Him to shape my view.  How does that happen?

1. Recognise the season you’re living in.

We live in a ‘now’ culture where everything is available all the time: knowledge is immediately available through Google or Wiki; fruit and veg line our shelves all year round; I can get what I want when I want it.  Our social and personal approach to life has become dislocated from the rhythm of the world we live in.  Nature still operates in seasons except where we seek to interfere.  God still operates in seasons too, and we can’t change that one!

Praying this morning I believe God was saying the season is Autumn for me, but I’m trying to live in Spring.  This is a season where some things die and move over to make space for new growth; it is a slower season; a transition season.  Yet I want Spring.  I’m acting like if I work hard enough and well enough I can see new growth and life springing up all over.  I can see this.  As a church we’re in a place of transition, a place of re-organising and preparing for growth.  Yet I can put myself under pressure to see that growth right now.  I needed to hear God say: slow down, it’s ok, this is the season – enjoy it!

Do you know the season your in?  One of growth, preparation, transition, training, rest, beginning, finishing, persevering – what season are you in?  Let yourself live in it.

2. Clear the airwaves.

Last post we looked at Philippians 4 and Paul’s guidance in how to live without anxiety.  He ended by calling us to focus on what is good, noble, excellent and praiseworthy.  To watch what we watch.

My mind is cluttered.  I read about 6 books at a time.  I get input from books, computers, music or phones at every conceivable opportunity of the day – even the bathroom is not exempt! My issue isn’t that I fill my mind with bad stuff it’s just that I fill my mind over and over again.  It never stops.  I have no space to gaze.

I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. (Psalm 16:8)

I need to give my mind room to simply rest on God.  For me that means putting books down, turning the radio off, making space.

3. Do the basics well.

Some of you may well do this last one naturally anyway, but it’s confession time for me.  One of my biggest causes of stress is that I feel I’m continually on catch up.  It’s often because I am.  I carve out space for the big important looking things and miss out time to properly sort out my calendar and diary – to get the basics of life done well.

Do you know what you’re doing and when you’re doing it or do you, like me, quite enjoy the adrenaline of the hectic….until it all gets too much?  I say this to myself, but you may want to say it to yourselves too: “Make space for the basics now, you’ll appreciate it later!”

So there we go.  I’m on a journey and these 3 things are my directions for today.  Enjoy the season, make space to gaze, and do the basics well.  If you have any other suggestions, experiences or advice, why not share the wealth by making a comment using the link below.

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Dealing with Anxiety

“It is possible to live an anxiety free lifestyle”.

What do you think?

We’ll respond differently, probably depending on our own experience.  Some incredulous, some ashamed, some angry that it could even be suggested, some indifferent because anxiety’s not such a big deal anyway.

It was Pete Carter, a church leader of great wisdom and integrity, who I heard say it, but he wasn’t the first.  In fact, Jesus said ‘Do not worry about your life’ and the Apostle Paul wrote ‘Do not be anxious about anything’.  Neither of them meant it as a mere suggestion, nor as an unreachable command.  It’s an invitation.

“Anxiety will come knocking at your door, it’s your choice whether to let it in.”

Another quote from Pete, but echoed in Paul.  In Philippians 4:4-11 the Apostle gives us some clear practical advice, and he really meant it…

1. Rejoice in the Lord always!

Worship, gratitude, praise.  It’s always our starting point.  Why?  Because as we react with worship we remember that God is near.  Bottom line, the reason we can live without anxiety is because God is our Father and He’s always present.  When Jesus said not to worry about life, He also described how Father God provides for birds and grass so how much more will He provide for us?  Whatever circumstances come, make worship a first reaction – because ‘The Lord is near’.

2. Do not be anxious…but present your requests to God.

This is not some kind of ‘grin and bear it’ denial of reality.  Anxiety comes on the back of circumstances – of challenges and perceived needs.  Jesus meant it when he said “In this world you will have trouble”….but he meant the next part too, “take heart because I have overcome the world”.  Don’t deny challenges, turn them into requests.  Bring them to Father God who can actually do something about it.

3. Leave it with Him.

Here’s the biggest challenge.  Often we worship and/or pray but then we keep on wondering, thinking, trying to work out what God is going to do.  We don’t let go.  The promise is that as we hand over our anxiety in the form of requests, God will hand over His ‘peace that passes understanding’.  Here’s the problem – to have peace that is beyond understanding we have to give up being able to understand (that’s not a me original – I heard it first from Bill Johnson – but it’s so true).  The problem is, I go through the motions of recognising God is present and handing it over to Him, but then I keep acting like it must be all down to me.  Essentially I want God to bless me as I deal with the problem, I don’t actually hand the problem over for Him to deal with.

It’s simple, but it’s hard.  It hits a bottom line issue: can we fully trust God?

Often we keep hold of the issue because we’re not sure God will sort it out.  Maybe we’ve tried handing it over before and the results haven’t been what we expected.  The truth is we cannot trust God to do exactly what we want Him to, but we can trust Him to do what is good, to be near, to bring peace.  God is good all the time, He’s outrageously good – but sometimes the way He works doesn’t make sense until we see the end of the line…and we may not always get to see it this side of eternity.

How do we learn to trust?

4. Watch what you watch.

Paul exhorts us to think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy.  Too often we fill ourselves with stories of bad things going on, of challenges and issues facing people, of how stories turn out bad.  The news reports what is going wrong in the world.  When we chat to people it’ll be negative more often than positive.  To speak too positively makes us sound over optimistic or ‘unreal’.  To ‘be real’ almost literally means to ‘be negative’ – see what can go wrong.  No wonder we struggle to trust God – we struggle even to remember what He’s really like.

Rejoice always.  Focus on what is good, right, true and noble.  Why?  Because then we’re always aware of the presence of God, of His goodness, of the fact we can trust Him.  We start to recognise the way He is moving so that we see the number of times He works in seemingly impossible situations to bring about good.  We see the way He transforms one situation in an instant and walks faithfully giving strength over long periods of time through others, yet always with never failing goodness.

Bottom line is this: God will not always do what we want, but God will always be with us and He will always be good.  We cannot avoid challenges, trials and loss, but we can keep anxiety out.  Recognise the presence of God and His goodness.  Choose to rejoice, to request, and to let go.  Then do what He says to do.